We don’t need the CDC numbers to tell us that the national debate over head trauma and suicide has long since outpaced the scientific evidence. Just a handful of cases so far support the notion that repeated head injuries (concussive or otherwise) can lead to drug abuse, aggression, and self-harm. No one knows the baseline rate of chronic traumatic encephalopathy among athletes, let alone the general population. No one knows whether the pathological signs of CTE—microscopic spots in the brain, found after death—relate to behavioral symptoms like dementia and depression. And no one can explain how repeated knocks to the head might produce CTE, or how CTE might produce suicidal thoughts. Yet in spite of our near-total ignorance, a moral panic has taken hold: Elaborate explanations are concocted when simple ones will do. Faced with the regrettable facts—a troubled man dies a lonely death—we resort to hocus-pocus theorizing about tau proteins and fibrillary tangles. It’s a form of denial: By obsessing over hidden trauma, we ignore what’s right in front of us. Many ex-NFL players have sad and difficult lives.
A fascinating, well-researched piece about Junior Seau, concussions, and what to do about the NFL. The takeaway: it’s way more complicated than we thought.